When I wrote my book, The Art of Practicing, I was careful to barely mention mindfulness or meditation, even though they were the basis of every chapter. It was the 1990s, and I didn’t want my readers to think I was some kind of hippie or weirdo and to not take the book seriously. Mindfulness was not in vogue back then.
Now, everyone wants to know something about it. What is it? And what can it really do for you?
Why are 20 million Americans practicing mindfulness now?
Musicians have actually been slower than a lot of other people to get interested in mindfulness. Maybe because the word “mindfulness” connotes being careful, and as artists we want to be free to express ourselves spontaneously.
In fact, my meditation teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, said that for an artist, “mindfulness” can be a problematic word, and that “awareness” makes more sense. So he typically hyphenated it as “mindfulness-awareness.”
But whatever we call it, what is the point of mindfulness?
Can it actually help us with practicing and performing?
Mindfulness is really about letting your mind relax. Usually, our mind is crowded with stuff we don’t need. If it’s busy obsessing about “getting it right” when we’re practicing, for instance, we might start pushing our body too hard, which can cause excess tension that actually gets in the way of expressing ourselves or mastering a passage.
Mindfulness allows us to notice our tendency to push ourselves, worry about results, and become tense, so that we can make a healthier choice.
It trains us let go of struggle and just trust ourselves.
Because actually when we’re doing a mindfulness practice, we’re simply connecting with our natural abilities – the natural openness and clarity of our mind, the natural ease that’s possible in how we move and how we connect to music.
You can start a practice session by first noticing how your body feels, just as it is. Then continue noticing how it feels as you practice. This way, you can more quickly notice when tension or stress arises and let it dissolve before you continue.
Here’s a quick step-by-step way to let your mind and body relax before practicing:
- Sit comfortably upright, close your eyes and notice how your body feels, from the feet up.
- Open your eyes and notice your breathing. Let the exhale go all the way out before the inhale naturally happens.
- When your mind wanders from your breathing, gently bring it back.
- Continue for a couple of minutes.
Do you feel more relaxed and clear headed after doing this? Imagine what that can do for your practicing!
Two amazing things happen from this relaxation: Your heart and your perceptions can open more. That means you can start enjoying sounds and sensations more than before. You get out of your head and into your body.
And then, there are all sorts of ways to apply mindfulness directly to your actual practicing – so you can connect even more powerfully with sounds and sensations from one moment to the next. .
So when the time comes to play for people, you’ll have more music and joy to offer them.
If you’re a pianist, I invite you to find out how to apply mindfulness to both your practicing and your performing at the Transformative Piano Master Class Series, beginning June 21. Find out how the right guidance and support can change everything by bringing out the natural coordination and musicality within you.
Have questions? Feel free to ask them!